Jodha Akbar – a tale of tender love in the jungle of politics ridden with conspiracy, maneuvres and strategy where marriages were more like business deals and kinship ensured loyalty. Despite the glaring liberties with historic accuracy, I loved the film and wished it were true. It seemed so right for Hritik Jalaluddin to have a wife like Aishwarya Jodha. Not that I wanted to believe that she was the woman behind all that made Emperor Jalaluddin earn the title of ‘Akbar’; but because they seemed so right as a couple united by a love that made nonsense of every difference in their union to start with.

Then I read ‘The feast of roses’ by Indu Sundaresan – a story based on the lives of Jahangir and Nurjahan – how the emperor surrendered himself and all his authority at the altar of love for his twentieth wife Meherunnissa. She was practically the ruler for the next 16 years of Jahangir’s rule. While the work itself is fiction, it is a fact of history that Jahangir depended on Nurjahan’s advice on every matter of administration and she was the most powerful empress among the Moghul dynasty.

And then Shahjahan whose name is readily recognised for the monument he built as a dedication to his Love - a tomb for his wife Arjumand better known as Mumtaz mahal. The Taj has remained on top of the Love charts for over 350 years and has become another synonym for love.

Looking at these Moghul kings, I have wondered what gave them this ability to love with such intensity and devotion, while most other kings were too preoccupied with running their kingdoms while paying little attention to their love life or even to their wives. And it seems natural too, given their responsibilities. Do we even know the names of the wives of Ashoka, Harshavardhana or Chandragupta Vikramaditya? Or Babur and Aurangzeb?

What made these three men different? Was it something in their genetic composition - a romantic streak? Were they men who cared more for their women and hence knew how to make them feel special with their love? But then one remembers that they all had several wives and singled out one special wife for all this special attention. How come we remember them for their one special love while we do not think of their neglect of or indifference to all those other wives? In fact singling out a wife for such extravagant attention and love must have been terrible, even cruel to all their other wives, some of them princesses and women of great substance perhaps. Imagine not getting so much as a footnote in history while one wife gets 20 pages!

Or perhaps the credit should actually go to these three women who were so special that the kings could not treat them like just another wife? I am sure that one has to do a lot more than just bear 14 kids to an emperor to merit a Tajmahal. So what was she like? Any thoughts?
41 Responses
  1. dipali Says:

    Much fodder for thought, Usha!

  2. Unknown Says:

    My history books tell me she was devious, manipulative, played people off against each other, very wily and had poor J by the balls.J was a doper much given to taking opium- and she basically ran the show with her father and brother as able assistants . No wonder he was bereft when she popped off.Probably dreamt up the Taj in an opium dream like Coleridge and Kubla Khan .
    Experts in History pardon me please .

  3. Altoid Says:


    From what I have read(outside of the two Indu Sundaresan's novels) Mumtaz Mahal was quite the possessive, manipulative Queen. If you remember, she makes sure NurJahan's daughter Laadli doesnt get too close to J and/or get married to him. And you are right it was a two-pronged approach. One- these women made themselves attractive and indispensible to their respective emperors and their emperors too were besotted enough to surrender all they had.

    There's ALWAYS two sides to any story, isnt it?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    It was such a different era that I think we can never know the actual truth. Different people, different decisions and different atmosphere. But there must be something in the three ladies...

  5. Mahadevan Says:

    I think it is not History, but historians, who laid emphasis more on what they wanted us to see. In the traditional history, the emphasis was more on Akbar's efforts to be a little more liberal in his religious outlook than, say, his great grandson Aurangazeb. In Joda Akbar, the emphasis was on love rather than on statecraft. Jehangir was more given to worldly pleasures and therefore his dominant wife had to shoulder the responsibility of ruling the State. Taj Mahal certainly has forced all other achievements of Shahjehan into insignificance. The irony is that during his last days, he was forced to look at Taj Mahal, by his own son, through a window in his prison cell, a few kilometres away.

    Einstein and Newton, Bradman and Lincoln had made great contributions in their fields, though we do not know their wives. It is incorrect to look at everything through the prism of love.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    History tells how S Jahan cut off the fingers of the master craftsmen who build the Taj to avoid duplication. The grand gesture of temple building or raising tombs is as much commomeration of the king's personal significance-love for wife/love for god to build temples of mahals is secondary.
    Though they must have been extraordinary women to catch the emperor's attention from a zenana teeming with queens!

  7. Serendipity Says:

    Interesting post , as usual :)
    All of my life , I had been fascinated with SJ and his love for Mumtaz , only after I read the Feast Of roses did I realise that Jahangir probably loved Nur Jahan more;in a more real sort of way , its just that he didn't care enough to make a proclamation.

  8. Usha Says:

    Dipali:It seems that there is a lot that history books don't tell us and with the level of sycophancy that marked the works of official chroniclers we may never know the truth.

    Mrs.G: That explains it. When I visited the Taj, I didn't fall in love as many people claim to have. All I felt was a soulless monument to the king's own ego and the hatred of a son for his father. Now that opium addiction angle makes a lot of sense.

    Altoid: yes and of the two sides we got to study the least interesting parts. But I truly wonder where she had the time and energy to be so cunning and manipulative in between her incessant pregnancies.

    Mashedmusings: Isn't it a pity that we can never know the actual truth. or perhaps it is as well so we can let our imagination run riot and produce films like Jodha Akbar.

    Mahadevan: And those Historians had nothing more than tales of sycophancy to rely on. But at least by the time of the Moghuls there were independednt accounts by the british who had started trading with India.
    In the case of the achievers you have mentioned they are famous for their own body of work. But history talks about the personal lives of kings as well as their political achievements. This is why I wondered how we never read of Mrs. Ashoka or a Mrs.Aurangzeb - were they as good or bad with the people in their private life as they were with their subjects.

    Maami:The Taj was nothing more than an ego trip. I guess Shahajehan and his father in law who was Nurjahan's brother resented the tomb Noor had built for her father. the Taj was a more opulent version of the tomb of Itmadudaula. They must have been itching to build this tomb and Mumtaz conveniently died providing the occasion.
    Idu eppadi Irukku?
    And I cannot believe that so much vengeance and hatred and cruelty can co exist in a heart filled with the kind of Love Taj is supposed to symbolise.
    It was NOT about her or his Love for her. It was about Him and his resentment and need for revenge against NurJahan, I think.

    Serendipity: They were all the same I think - a bunch of heartless power mongers and drunken womanisers. Perhaps Akbar was different. And you are going to hate me for this girl, but ya, there was No Jodha in his life.

  9. WhatsInAName Says:

    Oh! Your post and all these comments thereafter have been sort of an eye opener. I am eager to read Feast of Roses now.
    Though I have never been too much in love with Taj Mahal, but neither have I given a second thought to the authenticity of the story behind it. You sound very right when you say its just an ego trip borne out of jealousy.
    As to your thoughts about other wives being jealous, I guess in a war, whether for love or for power, someone has to win. Even in mythology, we hear only of Rukmini, Satyabhama and Radha, not of the remaining waives of Krishna!

  10. Praveen Says:

    May be the chemistry worked only with the 3rd or the 20th wife :P, that the mughals surrendered themselves to a particular begum.

    I visited the Taj Mahal at the age of 7 and seems I asked my dad indhula enna irukku, verum samathi, vaa vetukku polaam, bore adikarthu :D

    Interesting read on Mumtaz

    Wikipedia says; "Despite her frequent pregnancies, Mumtaz travelled with Shah Jahan's entourage throughout his earlier military campaigns"

  11. Indian in NZ Says:

    There must have been something special in these ladies' personalities to have captured the Kings' and the historians attention....though I wonder too how Mumtaz managed to do so much in between her back to back pregnancies..

  12. Anonymous Says:

    history is wat the winner thinks..

  13. Anonymous Says:


    Your question about the role of a wife in a husband's success and life transcends social and economic status, as well as the period in history, I think.

    In modern times, it is not formalised but still a practice of sorts to 'check' the wife over before a man is invited to join the board or the executive group in a company. It is not a fluke, in consulting firms, that wives of partners all appear to be calm, collected, rational and inclusive women; it is by design as disruptive wives' husands rarely make it to the club.

    Now on husbands: the story is not very different. The most successful women in modern times have had either no husbands or very supportive husbands, all in the background - whether it was Margaret Thatcher's or Carly Fiorina's.

    The core lesson however is that love transcends egos, and traditional, societally determined gender roles.

    As for the 'ignored' wives, I don't know if they were all wives at all. In one of Ramayana's interpretations, I read that Dasharath had 31000 ranis! In history however, I do not think many of them became wives by marriage - some joined the harem when their husbands were defeated in wars and taken captive; some were brought in just to shelter them from poverty. So they were not created equal anyway, and probably knew their station and behaved accordingly.

    By the way, interesting title too! Feminists from the first wave onwards have fought to call history 'herstory'.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    @ Usha: Another thought. At the end of the day, the TajMahal is a mausoleum. She had to die to see this 'proof of love'. Weird, no? Several documenters believe she died because of poor health sustained due to these dozen plus childbirths. Some love that was!

  15. Sujatha Says:

    I'm confused by Altoid's comment: If I understand correctly, is Altoid saying that Mumtaz prevented the marriage of Laadli to Jahangir? Would that be even possible, considering that Laadli would be a stepdaughter to Jahangir?
    As for Khurram, who married Mumtaz(Arjumand), he was brought up primarily by Ruqaiyya Begum, seniormost of Akbar's queens. His birth mother was Bhar(or Bihari)mal's daughter, a Rajput princess, though the confusion with the name Jodha/Jodhbai came later from Colonel Todd's Annals of Rajputana. She is referred to quite extensively in Jahangir's autobiography (Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri).

    If I may suggest some fascinating reading, try Frances Pritchett's site

    and Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World" for better insight into the lives of women in the harem.

  16. Usha Says:

    WIAN: The feast of Roses isa good read and now I am waiting to read her other books incl the prequel "the twentieth wife'
    As for the wives of gods, it is always stated that every wife is an incarnation of Lakshmi or Parvathi. So no problems there I suppose.

    S.praveen: I agree that when marriages are made for political convenience, it is possible that in most cases there is no chemistry from either side.
    But then I find it curious to reconcile such intense love for one woman and total indifference to others and the woman actually tolerating it.

    2b's mommy:jodha Akbar presented one version of what might have been.
    But of course if she was indeed married to jahangir then Jodha might not been totally eclipsed by the dazzling Nurjahan.
    But much hasn't been written about Mumtaj . And Shahjahan was the type of vicious guy who had his brother and all other claimants to the throne killed. And to me, it seems difficult to see him as a soft romantic smitten by the kind of Love that the Taj is supposed to symbolise.

    Kaushal: Sadly, yes.

    Shefaly: Mythology and history speak of women like Satyavati, Kunti, Kundavi(Rajaraja chola's sister) and chatrapati Shivaji's mother's influence on their wards. But not many wives were known to be equal partners or as people who were interested in the affairs of the kingdom. Some of them were princesses and it seems unlikely that they were not smart enough to conttribute to the affairs of the state. Perhaps these were not recorded because they happened in places that were off limits to the chroniclers!
    Yes, it seems that she was constantly pregnant - 14 kids in 19 years. Fortunately she got a break when he went on his expedition to mewar!
    Ya, The Taj is perhaps as much born of guilt as his Ego!

    Sujatha: Indi Sundaresan suggestes in her book "The feast of Roses" that Nurjahan attempted to get Laadli married to Khurram as he was the most likely successor to jahangir and he does refuse it on the grounds that they are cousins and hence the alliance is impossible. But she suggests that he was indeed attracted to her but was deterred by Arjumand who would have nothing of it, knowing her aunt's designs.
    Thanks for the interesting links.

  17. Mana Says:

    May be, their importance in his life wasn't as much compared to the one special wife. Or it can be that-the history portrayed much significance of one special wife. IMHO.

    Even in our life, we have so many friends. But we rely on one friend for their advices or help and thus makes them special.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    I believe it is all in genetics and stars.

  19. Mama - Mia Says:

    i never really thought about all these things and obviously your question stumps me totally! :p

    but they must have had something more than all other wives put together. perhaps just a streak of independence and intelligence that other women refused to show believing that being submissive was the way to a man's heart?!

    though i would tend to agree with EL's version! had quite a laugh reading that! and wondered yet again, how little we know! sigh!



  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. slightly digressing, but always wondered why history is full (and accepting) of polygamous men with no trace of polyandrous women-- except Draupadi... well read people, pl. enlighten.

    The Taj as 'monument of love' is over-hyped.. love doesn't call for monumental proofs coming to think of it, really...

  22. i enjoyed joda akbar as a movie, history though is relative, relative to the person doing the telling. the truth is possibly in between, different versions of the same episode.

  23. Akhila Says:

    Thoughtful post. I never beleived that Taj was built only for love. I agree with you. Cruelty & love cannot reside in the same heart.

    The women must have been really extraordinary to find such a place in history, when women were traded (read married) for kingdom & alliances.

    Reminds me of the song in 'Karnan' - " Maharajan ulagai aalalam. Endha Maharani avanai aaluval"

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Usha, you have raised questions which I have pondered on...what made these men different? In fact I have started to wonder whether they were really different...I mean I am sure that in those days it wasn't quite approved of if you were influenced by a woman or considered her your equal partner so it is possible that the other men hid it! I am sure that we have been denied many a love story because they were kept secret!
    I personally believe that neither men nor women can surivive without each other. In fact in those days the men must have depended on their women quite a lot as no one could be trusted. There was danger everywhere, specially for kings...whom can they consider their best friend? A woman ofcourse!

  25. Those were terrible days and these women needed all their manipulative skills to survive in those harems, where they were brought without much choice or rights. A queen in favour could go out of favour the moment the Emperor found a new love interest, which did happen often, so these women had to have something to have held that interest for so long. In Noor Jehan's case, Jehangir had got her first husband killed so she would marry him! And Ladli (what a lovely name for a loved daughter!) was her daughter from the fist husband, it was not unnatural for her to want her daughter to be the next queen.
    She was powerful, cherished and loved but I wonder if she loved Jehangir back???
    Mumtaj Mahal did travel wit Shah Jehan, I think they really cared for each other.Her dauhgters were the ones who cared for Shah Jehan in his old age, wheh he was imprisoned by Aurangzeb. Do you know the Mughal kings did not get their daughters married because they did not want their heads bowing to anyone, which a girl's father had to do. Aurengzeb was the only one who did that.

  26. diya Says:

    Women were not allowed to influence public life. It appears that the sisters of Jahangir and Shah Jahan were also accomplished ladies but had little or no significance in the politics that is recounted in historical accounts. The first 'histories' of the Mughal era as we know it was written by predominantly Englishmen who focused on their barbaric acts, which need not be believed.
    Historians should study the Mughal women with an unbiased mind now, surely they must have left some evidence of themselves somewhere. The historian's obsession with state policy has done us in for there is a lot of social history that lies buried in the past.

  27. point well made..but i think it is altogether a different generation and hence a different ball game altogether!! also from what i read that mumtaz was quite infamous.

  28. oh wow.. u do add a new perspective to the whole thing! These were special women.. perhaps more special than the kings.. bcs the kings were born to the greatness but these women earned it.. fair and square!

  29. Anonymous Says:

    I liked the movie, it appealed to the romantic in me. :)

    And Ushaji, I hopped over to tell you - you have been tagged!

  30. Art Says:

    Have been reading ur blogs for quite sometime... Really liked it. I was thinking of blogrolling you. Hope you dont mind

  31. Usha Says:

    Manasa:Yes, these women must have been special - that is why I wondered what was special about Mumtaz.

    Raj: Interesting, very interesting!

    Mama-mia:oh, I loved EL's take too.

    gauri: Simple, polyandry was not common at all.Even in Panchali's case there is a huge explanation for her marriage to 5 men. It was not common. Dushashan is supposed to have made fun of her for this during the vastrpaharan.

    Africanfragments: Sifting through the day's newspapers one struggles to make out the truth from all the different interpretations. If this is the case with yesterday's news, how can we ever know the absolute truth from history. I am sure we got the more acceptable and palatable versions.

    Akhila:Oh yes, lovely song. In fact all the songs in that film were lovely weren't they?

    Nita: Not just love stories, there must have been many women who could have become role models to our young women which was lost too...

    Indianhomemaker: Thanks for the insights. I did not know that bit about the kings not getting their daughters married. Interesting!

    Diya: I am sure there are already some interesting studies on the women of the Moghul era.

    Nefariousoutlook: A memorial like the taj for someone infamous! what an irony!

    Howdoweknow:Yes I am sure they were but have not been covered much in history. Sad, no?

    Devaki: It was a nice lovestory. Will do the tag sometime soon. Thanks.

    Art:Please do and thanks. Will hop over to your blog soon. :)

  32. Anonymous Says:

    To get the corn out it can be an arduous job. One has to peel the cover patiently and rip it out completely with some force. After a few repeats viola you will have the corn. You just did that, You picked the movie peeled the cover and revealed us something tastily distasteful and I liked it. I am glad whenever I find a great new blog and I am glad today.

  33. Anil P Says:

    As I read your post I rewound to my trip to the Jodhabai palace at Fatehpur Sikri early this year, I spent quite some time imaging the things you talked about.

  34. Mahadevan Says:

    For nearly ten days, Agelessbonding has been silent. A little anxious.

  35. Anonymous Says:


    Last night, I was watching a re-run of a 2007 documentary titled 'Queen Camilla'. I am not sure it can be found online anywhere but the crux of the matter is the same as that of your post. She is a supportive, appreciative, intelligent and interesting consort to Prince Charles, who relies on her advice and has done so for over 40 years (which is like a 'yug' in today's terms!), just like the women you write about.


  36. Usha Says:

    Maduraiveeran: Thank you.

    anilp: Did you? That is indeed interesting!

    Mahadevan: Thank you but all is well. Just a bit busy with Siddhartha's wedding less than a month away.

    Shefaly: Thank you. I wish I could get hold of it. ya we all heard princess Diana's Version of the Prince Charles story. There must be another side.

  37. Swati Says:

    Jodha Akbar was a pleasant surprise for me , I never knew that love story. The other tw ofcourse everyone knows but then its so true that they actually ignored their other wives. And second point is that if they loved one female so dearly why did they marry others ?

    I am also not sure about the authencity of these stories. You get to read/see different versions all the time. Jahgeer and Salim was that one person ??? Salim loved Anarkali , then where did Noorjahan came to picture ? I have even read that Anarkali was buried in the eyes of people , but she was actually escaped thru a tunnel and she later married Salim with a different name :P These tales are like fairy tales

  38. Interesting post Usha! The likes of which only you can come up with :)

  39. WhatsInAName Says:

    Long time no post! Hope you are doing fine.

  40. Anonymous Says:

    Usha, where are you???

  41. Neera Says:

    Hi Usha, read this post over a month back and was totally shocked and awed by the topic as it had never ever crossed my mind. Decided to read feast of roses but first laid my hands on 'Taj: A story of Mughal India' by Timeri Murari. And went thru the post and comments again. And I find that 2 very different perspectives have been provided in both the books. The one by Murari presents Mehrunissa in shades more of black than white because of her shrewd and cunning personality. In spite of that one can't feel the power she had within herself to literally run the Great Mughal empire for 16 years like u mention. Jahangir literally felt that he could relax and pursue his interests of painting and poetry because his wife was doing a swell job.

    Arjamund on the other hand is portrayed as very loving and extremely brave. Shah Jahan's and her love for each other seems truly genuine. She traveled with him on all his conquests, according to the book, including 4 extremely hard years where they ran from pillar to post from Jahangir who acted on Mehrunnisa's orders of imprisoning them to further Ladili's husband and Jahangir's 3rd son Shahriya to become emperor. The 14 pregnancies does strike one in a very crude way considering she lost health like anything owing to those but apparently she couldn't deny her beloved any happiness. One definitely wonders about Shah Jahan being insensitive though. Also Shah Jahan never married another woman after Arjamund and divorced his first wife (and never established any physiacl relations with her) which was next to impossible for kings and princes because he too loved Arjamund profusely and both of them had to be very very stubborn to eventually get married to overcome mostly Mehrunissa's sly plans.

    In passing he has mentioned strongly about the politics and jealousies that took place amongst the different wives of one king on whom he chose even for one particular evening and Arjamund was glad that she didn't have to deal with that.

    I still have to watch jodha Akbar but the other 2 women stood out for their strength of character which was even more exemplary in the times that they lived in.